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August 2003

Good Gear Gone Bad

It's all fun and games 'til someone gets a tent pole in the eye.

When you test as much new and unfamiliar gear as Backpacker editors have, you’re bound to suffer a few mishaps. We’ve stabbed ourselves with tent stakes, sliced various digits with knives and hatchets, caught tender places in zippers, singed eyebrows, and even spritzed ourselves with bear spray. All of which makes for entertaining gear reviews-and the occasional gaping wound. To spare you the same misery, we’ve compiled a list of the most common ways your gear can hurt you, plus advice for preventing such injuries. Why learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from ours?

Pack attack

Swinging a too-heavy pack onto your back is one of the riskiest things a backpacker can do. The good news: Torn muscles in your lower back usually heal on their own. The bad news: It’s a miserable way to spend the next few days. To prevent it: First off, lighten your load. Next, practice safe pack lifting. With your legs bent, pull the pack up onto one thigh. Slip an arm through a strap, and gently flip the load onto your shoulders. Even better, get someone to lift your pack.

Biting boots, part A

A recent study of hiking maladies reported in the American Journal of Medicine shows blisters as the most common complaint. To ease your pain and promote healing, clean the site with an antiseptic wipe or a piece of gauze dipped in boiled water, then drain the bubble. Gob on a lubricant (ointment from your first-aid kit works great). A moleskin “donut” will reduce friction even more-with the ointment inside the hole in the donut. You can also get by with tape. Clean and air dry the blister in the morning and at night to stave off infection. To prevent it: Try lighter boots, or at least, break in your boots before hiking. Other proven methods: Wear liner socks, prelube hot spots with a sports ointment, or wrap your heels with moleskin and/or duct tape.

Biting boots, part B

Old boots may not provide the support you need, especially for your Achilles tendon, which runs from the back of the heel bone up to the muscles of the lower leg. Hike with too-soft boots, especially uphill, and you risk tendonitis. To prevent it: Buy new boots. Or, place an insole pad about 1/4-inch thick under your heel to relieve stress on the Achilles. Two strips of padding taped inside the collar, on each side of the Achilles, will further reduce stress.

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